In the ninth part of the Gaon Connection series “FiasCorona”, read how the Coronavirus scare is hitting the poultry farmers hard and they are selling chicken at throwaway prices
“Today, chicken is cheaper than potatoes. These days, poultry farmers are only eating chicken daily. They are getting potatoes for Rs 22 a kg and chicken for Rs 10 a kg. They don’t have money to buy any other vegetables and they are not making money by selling chickens,” said Abhimanyu Singh, 38, a poultry farmer, who has been suffering losses in his business because of the sudden Coronavirus outbreak.
While Coronavirus has infected more than 1.9 lakh people and claimed over 7,900 lives (until Wednesday), there are many whose lives and livelihood are getting affected due to misinformation on social media regarding the virus. Amid rumours that the novel Coronavirus can be transmitted through consumption of chicken, people have been avoiding its consumption. This has hit the poultry sector hard as the prices have fallen considerably.
In the poultry sector, almost everyone — from small poultry farmers to retailers — has been hit hard.
Abhimanyu, who lives in Jhusi in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, says he hasn’t seen such havoc in the business in the 18 years he has been in it. “We are suffering losses worth Rs 25 lakh,” he said. “Three days ago, chickens were selling for Rs 5-6 a kg. Some have given them for free. About 95% of my business has been affected. We are getting Rs 25-30 for a kg of chicken that cost us Rs 75-80. I am ruined now. My earnings over the past 18 years have been wiped out. I have taken a loan of Rs 15 lakh this month. I have no idea how I am going to repay it. We are trying to keep ourselves prepared for the worst.”
About 400 km to the west of Allahabad, Ranjeet Singh, of Begusarai in Bihar, is a layer poultry farmer. “Because of the rumours being spread, we are getting very low price for eggs. The eggs, which we would sell for Rs 4 a piece, are now being sold for Rs 2. I am incurring a loss of Rs 10,000 daily,” he said.
“There have been cases of farmers committing suicide. Although there is no connection between the Coronavirus and chickens, sales have been severely affected because of the outbreak.”
Ranjeet has 27,000 chickens in his farm that produce 25,000 eggs a day. But due to the sudden fall in demand, he seems to be considering winding up the business. “The production is more, the demand is very little. To raise a chicken that is 750 grams costs us Rs 90. We are forced to sell it at Rs 20-25 a kg.”
Ranjeet said the stock the farmers had for Holi was sold at a loss. They were forced to sell chicken for Rs 10-20 a kg. “The farmers have stopped introducing new chicks to the existing flock in their farms. So, their business seems to be at a halt. About 99% of the farmers have not introduced new chicks, so people would soon stop getting chicken in the market. They will not restart this work till Coronavirus persists,” said Ranjeet.
Yashwant Singh, 39, a poultry farmer who lives in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, said he has incurred losses worth Rs 8-9 lakh in the past 10-12 days due to the outbreak. “I have sold chicken for Rs 10-12 a kg. We couldn’t even recover our cost of production.”
Yashwant had about 13,000 chickens. He sold the whole stock at a loss because the price for chickens was falling with each passing day. Farmers don’t want to continue in this business, he said. Most are clearing their stocks at a loss, and, to avoid further jolt, they are not introducing new chicks for future sale. “The new placement of chicks is almost negligible. No one wants to take another risk. Sales may improve during the summer, but since we have no money to do this business now, we won’t be able to keep up this work. It would take us two-three years to get over this,” said Yashwant, who has been doing the business for two years.
Bahadur Ali, the chairman of All India Poultry Breeders Association, had in a recent letter to the Ministry of Finance said that the loss of the poultry industry, which includes broiler farmers, integration companies and breeding companies, has been to the tune of Rs 1,750 crore between mid-January and mid-February. “The industry produces about 35 crore monthly commercial broilers. If these conditions persist in March also, there could be an additional loss of about Rs 1,750 crore per month,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying, over 10 crore farmers are directly involved in poultry farming. The poultry sector produces 25 crore eggs and 1.3 crore birds per day in the country and contributes more than Rs 1.2 lakh crore to the GDP.
“I used to sell 500 chickens a day. Now, it is difficult to sell even five,” said Mohammad Alam, 28, who supplies chickens to hotels in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “I used to sell chicken at Rs 160 a kg. I sell them now at the same price, but since the sales have dropped, I barely earn Rs 800 a day. We have five people working under us. I have asked them to not come to work since we can’t pay them,” he said.
Chicken, as of now, is being sold for Rs 10-30 a kg. However, the cost of production is about Rs 80 per kg. Every poultry farmer is suffering an average loss of Rs 50 per kg. But traders want the prices reduced further, said many farmers.
“Traders are putting pressure on the farmers saying people are not going to buy because of Coronavirus. This is forcing farmers to sell chicken at whatever price the traders set. Farmers want to clear their stocks as soon as possible,” said BP Singh, 35, a layer poultry farmer in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh.
“I recently sold chicken at Rs 22 a kg. But the customer took only half of what he had demanded because there were traders selling stock bought at a lower price from farmers in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. They have flooded the Allahabad market with those chickens,” said Abhimanyu. “These traders are buying chicken at Rs 8 a kg and selling for Rs 20 a kg. Farmers who don’t have fodder are giving chicken for free. This has been a big blow for us,” he said.
“If you ask a shopkeeper about the price of egg, he will tell you a kg costs Rs 5-6. But traders are buying it from us for Rs 1.90. It costs us Rs 4 to produce an egg. Had these been sold at Rs 3, we would have believed it is because of Coronavirus and that the traders are saying the truth. This is a pre-planned strategy of some big poultry traders,” alleged BP Singh.
Farmers feel the Coronavirus’ impact has been greater than what they faced during bird flu in 2003 and 2006.
“In 2003, when bird flu hit the industry, people sold chickens for Rs 12 a kg. But then the cost of production then was less than what it is today. It was about Rs 30 a kg. But this Coronavirus has hit us harder,” said Abhimanyu.
“Had the rumours been true, the sale of mutton and fish should also have been affected but that has not happened,” said BP Singh.
Giriraj Singh, Union Fisheries, Dairying and Animal Husbandry Minister, in a tweet, refuted the rumours on social media and other forums and said there is no risk in consuming non-vegetarian food.
Farmers said videos showing some burying and burning chickens were old clips being used to instill fear among people. “Several rumours are being circulated on WhatsApp. Videos taken during the bird flu hit are also being circulated now,” said Alam.
“People may not be aware of the facts related to Coronavirus, but in the warning message being conveyed when a person calls a mobile number, it must also be mentioned that eating chickens is safe,” said BP Singh.